You know that time of the year is coming when the cold and flu formula ads start blanketing the airwaves! As naturopaths, we’ve always believed an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. We believe it’s a great idea to actively take charge of your immunity at the beginning of winter which can minimise your exposure to the misery of winter illnesses. Nutrition should be a vital part of your prevention plan.
Start with the gut!
Did you know 70% (yes 70%!) of our immune system resides in our digestive tract? Keeping your microbiome in good shape stimulates your immunity, amongst many other benefits, and increases resistance to all infections. Clinical trials of various strains of the Lactobacillus probiotic have demonstrated many quantifiable immune support effects, enhancing immune response in everyone, especially the elderly.
A to Zinc!
Zinc plays a major role in the function and maintenance of our immune system. It’s essential for the many types of immune cells and even a slight deficiency compromises our immune response and leaves us vulnerable to coughs and flu. Zinc and Vitamin C make a great cold-busting duo! Good food sources include meat, oysters, eggs, seafood and tofu.
Herbs can help
If your immune system needs pepping up to withstand the winter onslaught of germs, Echinacea should be an integral part of your daily routine. The Echinacea plant was originally used by native Americans to heal wounds and infections. Nowadays, it is popularly used to boost the immune system in fighting colds and flu, and also as an agent to help heal viral and bacterial infections.
Although Echinacea is used to boost the immune system, it does tend to lose effectiveness with lengthy usage. Ideally, you should take it for no more than six to eight weeks at a time.
The normal dose is 3-4ml of alcoholic extract or 300mg of powdered herb tablets taken three times daily at the first sign of infection. It is not recommended for people with progressive systemic and autoimmune diseases such as tuberculosis, lupus or Aids.
If all else fails….Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) has been clinically proven to shorten the duration of colds and flus if taken early in the onset phase. Garlic, Lemon and some honey in a hot water also help with the symptoms.
Nana was right! A few practical tips..
keeping warm can help you avoid coughs, colds and flu. After this year’s relatively mild, moist autumn in most parts of Australia, people won’t be used to dressing warmly for wintry weather. So if there’s a sudden cold snap, we will be more likely to feel the cold and start to shiver. Shivering depresses the immune system and this makes us more likely to catch colds. Also, lower levels of sunlight and altered levels of hormones such as melatonin and serotonin negatively affect how the immune system performs.’ We lose up to 30 per cent of our body heat through our heads – so wear a hat.
Wash your hands
Although most infections are mainly carried in the air and transmitted by the “aerosol” effect when someone sneezes, germs can be transmitted by physical contact and enter the body when infected hands touch vulnerable parts like our eyes, mouths and noses. These areas offer easy access to invading germs despite being equipped with defence mechanisms such as mucous and hairs. Washing hands often – and drying them on disposable paper towels (or laundering hand towels regularly) – can significantly reduce the chances of catching a virus, especially the rotavirus, which tends to infect children and causes vomiting and diarrhoea.
Watch the weather
Low cloud, dull and misty conditions tend to bring an increase in germs. Viruses tend to survive longer when the weather is moist. They can hang in the air attached to water droplets more easily, and when it’s cloudy and dull there are fewer breezes to blow the germs away. This is the time when you’re more likely to catch something – although you may not notice you’ve done so until ten to 12 days later, the incubation period for many colds and coughs.
Avoid huddling and heating
Because people are much closer together physically during winter, this makes it easier for infections to pass between people. Crowded trains and buses with little ventilation, department stores bustling with shoppers, and people gathering for parties all make catching a cold more likely.
Drink plenty of water
Doctors recommend we drink about eight glasses of water a day to stay healthy. Water helps the kidneys function properly and flushes out the toxins that accumulate in our bodies. If you have a cold, being dehydrated makes your mucus drier and thicker and less able to cope against invading bacteria and viruses. If you’ve already caught a cold, drinking plenty of fluids will help flush out the infection.
Lack of sleep makes us more prone to infection, But it’s not a matter of simply sleeping for longer, as some people – especially those who are positively motivated – can have fewer than seven hours’ sleep every night and not suffer at all. Moods also affect our ability to fight off infections, and if you feel stressed you are more likely to become ill compared to when you’re feeling buoyant, happy and relaxed.
Keep on moving
Don’t underestimate the importance of regular activity, especially in winter. Apart from keeping our circulation going, regular moderate exercise increases the number of natural killer (NK) cells in our bodies. These lymphocytes in the bloodstream and the mucosal layer of the nose and airways travel around our bodies scavenging foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses. When you exercise, NK levels go up and stay elevated for about 36 hours afterwards. However don’t overdo it! If you exercise too much, this will actually lower levels of NK cells.